Compared to the group therapy session that was NBC’s panel at the TCAs, today’s presentation by ABC president Paul Lee was all swagger—not surprising, considering the network is coming off an enviably successful fall. This time last year, everyone was sneering at the prospect of shows set in a town where fairy tales are real, a modern-day update of The Count Of Monte Cristo, and the generic awfulness of a title like Suburgatory, and yet that comedy, Once Upon A Time, and Revenge all proved to be hits. And of course, Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is every bit as broad and predictable as everyone suspected, and of course, America loves it.
All of these have combined to give ABC more successful new shows than any other network—by playing the numbers, of course, considering they also had more new shows period, but also by employing unconventional strategies such as staggering launches, so shows like Once Upon A Time debut after every other new fall series has had a chance to disappoint. It’s little tricks like these that Lee picked up from his time working for cable, and they definitely seem to have paid off.
According to our own Todd VanDerWerff—who is no doubt swaddled in approximately seven layers of promotional T-shirts by now, like some kind of swag onion—Lee’s wall of positivity is so unflappable that even his out-and-out bombs can’t penetrate it. For example, he remains steadfast that, while he doesn’t think Charlie’s Angels “quite breathed life into that franchise,” it was nevertheless “a really strong attempt,” such as the Herculean effort it expended to get Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor to make out. He’s also not quite ready to give up on Pan Am just yet, saying that he still thinks he could “bring an audience to it”—though he didn’t go so far as to say he planned on actually renewing it, suggesting no, audience, don’t go with Paul Lee, it’s a trap! There’s nothing there!
His confidence clearly surging, Lee even kicked things off by sticking up for Work It, saying, “I thought there was room for a very, very silly show,” and comparing the cross-dressing comedy to, at various times, Shakespeare, Tootsie, and Monty Python. He then extended that denial even further by saying of the criticism from GLAAD and the trans community, “In that particular case, I didn’t get it, but that’s probably me.” He then dropped the mic, threw his arms up defiantly, and exited stage left while a Rick Ross song blared, in my imagination, but not reality. Anyway, so Paul Lee doesn’t understand why some might find Work It an unfunny, offensive throwback to a far dumber era, but he does understand how it’s just like Shakespeare. That is just Paul Lee and Paul Lee’s adorable quirk.
Of course, Lee wouldn’t comment on whether, as originally reported, modern audiences would no longer have such access to the classics once Cougar Town returns from hiatus, refusing comment on the show possibly replacing Work It. (“We’ll see where [Work It] goes in the next few weeks,” Lee said, chuckling to himself as he imagined all the crazy girl outfits those guys will try on.) But while he didn’t have a concrete date set, he did promise new Cougar Town episodes in March, accompanied by a “big, strong message that we love the show,” such as not abruptly yanking it off the schedule again.
Midseason will also see the debuts of new shows Scandal, The River, and Don’t Trust The B—— In Apt. 23 (a series whose title Lee insists is still “edgy” despite its abbreviation of “Apartment”), and with them even more displacing of older series. The finally-building-its-audience Happy Endings could be the real victim, losing its plum, post-Modern Family slot to take a break and make room for Don’t Trust The Implied Bitch In Apt. 23 on April 11. And come April 5, Private Practice will have to learn to survive outside of “the [Grey’s Anatomy] universe” when it moves to the post-Dancing With The Stars slot, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, so that Shonda Rhimes’ other new show Scandal can suffer the most from direct comparisons to Grey’s.
Lee had less to say about The River, other than mentioning producer Steven Spielberg’s name as many as times as he possibly could, noting that Spielberg and Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli had Spielberged the horror show to have only eight episodes initially, with the Spielberg being that Spielberg’s show could pick up from its “very satisfying,” yet still “open” finale and go on for even more Spielbergs, provided it’s embraced by America’s non-Spielbergs. Spielberg.
That was pretty much it for new shows, as Lee’s supreme resoluteness was also such that, for the first TCAs in a long while, he didn’t bother announcing any new series pickups. For now he seems content to let it all ride, saying Dancing With The Stars could continue for “many, many years” and avowing that he believes even Grey’s Anatomy might stick around despite possibly losing Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo after this season, saying Rhimes’ “vision” for the finale and beyond is “very, very strong.” (Translation: ROBOTS.) He also offered a sort-of-spoiler-y hint about Revenge—adding to earlier rumors that the show could move on to a different location once the season wraps—which all but confirms he plans on that show sticking around as well. All in all, Lee’s spirits were incredibly light, and who can blame him—especially when the slightest setback can be ameliorated by his imagining a man in a dress.